In 2008, an ancient graveyard along the southern part of the Nile River provided archaeologists with an amazing find. Six cats were unearthed, one male, one female, and four kittens.
They had been buried near a caring family almost six thousand years ago. Their DNA tests have reignited the debate over where modern felines came to be domesticated, and just how much of it contributed to their evolution alongside humans.
“Cats were domesticated some 10,000 years ago by the first farmers in the Near East,” stated the team.
Cats Have A Dual Lineage
Wim Van Neer, a scientist part of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels is the archaeologist who found this early domesticated cat family. Since their discovery, he has done extensive DNA testing using finds from all over the near east and up to northern Africa.
Those hundreds of samples have ranged from 7,000 BCE to the recent 19th century. Collaborating with a team of dozens of scientists, Van Neer then combed through samples of mitochondrial DNA information.
He discovered that the first major genetic marker, Feline Type A, appeared in Turkey about 9,000 years ago. The researchers believe that shortly before this, the first domestication occurred with small wild cats living around farming villages. These could have helped get rid of rodent and pests.
This likely led to some cats actually living with the humans, and maybe the adoption of abandoned young. The Type A cat is tied to the 9,500-year-old remains discovered on Cyprus and thought to be the first true domestic feline.
However, another genetic marker, Feline Type C, appeared in Egypt several thousand years later. This line is tied to a more social and loving creature depicted as a pet, rather than an itinerant friend and rodent hunter.
From the DNA tests, it seems that the Egyptians, with their excess of resources and ingenuity, encouraged the feline evolution alongside humans through selective breeding. Now, every breed of modern domestic cats seems to descend from a blending of these two distinctive markers.
Research results are available in a paper in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
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